Stephen Fry Narrates Two Animated Videos Explaining How Fear, Loathing & Misinformation Drove the Brexit Campaign

For mil­lions watch­ing in the UK and around the world, antic­i­pat­ing the loom­ing Brex­it dead­line over the past two years has been like watch­ing the slow­est train wreck in his­to­ry. But for those not fol­low­ing the cov­er­age dai­ly, the impend­ing UK seces­sion from the Euro­pean Union is mys­ti­fy­ing. Just how many trains are there, and where are they com­ing from, and how fast, exact­ly, are they going?

From the future of food and drug imports, to the sta­tus of the “cur­rent­ly invis­i­ble” bor­der between North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic of Ire­land, to all of the legal minu­ti­ae no one men­tioned dur­ing the cam­paign, the con­se­quences of the recent fail­ure of a Brex­it deal could be dis­as­trous. Were “leave” cam­paign­ers hon­est in their sale of Brex­it to the vot­ers? Did they have any idea how such a thing would work? Ample evi­dence shows the answer to both ques­tions is an unqual­i­fied No.

The Vote Leave cam­paign direc­tor now describes the ref­er­en­dum as a “dumb idea.” Wealthy UK res­i­dents, includ­ing many a Brex­it politi­cian, are fast mov­ing their assets out of the coun­try. So how did Brex­it get sold to vot­ers if it’s such a poten­tial cat­a­stro­phe? The usu­al meth­ods worked quite well, Stephen Fry explains in the video above.

By stok­ing xeno­pho­bic fears over migrants and refugees, Brex­i­teers, he says, cre­at­ed “false assump­tions about the EU, some very dark, and some com­i­cal.” They were assist­ed in con­jur­ing a “myth­i­cal EU drag­on” by tabloid jour­nal­ists who called migrants “cock­roach­es” and “fer­al humans.” Rhetoric indis­tin­guish­able from Nazi pro­pa­gan­da drove a spike in hate crimes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite the insis­tence of many vot­ers that their choice was not dri­ven by racial ani­mus, the Brex­it cam­paign, like the Trump cam­paign, Fry says above, unde­ni­ably was. The con­se­quences of these votes for migrant work­ers and refugees speak for them­selves. In the UK, There­sa May’s “hos­tile envi­ron­ment” poli­cies have deprived British cit­i­zens from migrant fam­i­lies of liveli­hoods and safe­ty. Some have faced threats of depor­ta­tion, a sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to that fac­ing the chil­dren of Viet­nam War refugees in the US.

Fry calls for iden­ti­fy­ing a “new ene­my” of the peo­ple: mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion like the false claim that the NHS would save 350 mil­lion pounds a week after Brex­it and the repeat­ed lies in the U.S. about undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, crime, and ter­ror­ism. “Per­cep­tion of crime lev­els,” he says, “has become com­plete­ly detached from real­i­ty,” espe­cial­ly since the biggest secu­ri­ty threats come from hate crimes and right-wing vio­lence, a sit­u­a­tion report­ed on, warned about, and ignored, for sev­er­al years.

As in the US, so in the UK: relent­less­ly repeat­ed claims about “inva­sions” has cre­at­ed a very hos­tile envi­ron­ment for mil­lions of peo­ple. Are the facts like­ly to sway those vot­ers who were car­ried away by excess­es of hate and fear? Prob­a­bly not. But those who care about the truth should pay atten­tion to Fry’s debunk­ing. The facts about immi­gra­tion and oth­er issues used to sell far right poli­cies and politi­cians, as he out­lines in these videos, are entire­ly dif­fer­ent than what Brex­it lead­ers and their coun­ter­parts in the US want the pub­lic to believe.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Brex­it 101: The UK’s Stun­ning Vote Explained in 4 Min­utes

Yale Pro­fes­sor Jason Stan­ley Iden­ti­fies 3 Essen­tial Fea­tures of Fas­cism: Invok­ing a Myth­ic Past, Sow­ing Divi­sion & Attack­ing Truth

George Orwell Iden­ti­fies the Main Ene­my of the Free Press: It’s the “Intel­lec­tu­al Cow­ardice” of the Press Itself

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • steve lindsey says:

    I am a brit liv­ing in Brus­sels, Brex­it may affect me severe­ly. These Stephen Fry videos are just as one sided as the rest of the pro­pa­gan­da that has been pour­ing out of both sides. Poor show and we deserve bet­ter.

  • Tony says:

    Since the ref­er­en­dum, many of those who vot­ed to remain (the vasy major­i­ty of the Estab­lish­ment and broad­cast media) have con­stant­ly and con­sis­tent­ly impuned the motives of those who vot­ed to leave. Ste­pe­hen Fry, a com­mit­ted remain­er, inveitably falls into the same trap.

    Just because he thinks he’s clever, and sounds posh, does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that it’s so. And I was at Cam­bridge with him, so I know.

    The Euro­pean Union is a polit­i­cal con­struct that seeks to bring all the coun­tries of Europe into a sin­gle poli­ty. That has been its objec­tive since its for­ma­tion (“ever clos­er union”) and remains its objec­tive today. Papers released under the 30 year rule from the peri­od around the UK’s acces­sion (see For­eign Office file FCO 30/1048, para­graph 26*) show that British politi­cians and civ­il ser­vents were ful­ly aware of that objec­tive. But dur­ing the 1973 ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, the British peo­ple were told it was a ‘com­mon mar­ket’ and that it would have no effect on sov­er­eign­ty.

    Over 40 years lat­er, we are now at the stage where a sin­gle cur­ren­cy has been imposed on var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions whithout their con­sent (see the effects on Greece, Spain, Italy etc); where entire coun­tries have had unelect­ed lead­ers imposed upon them (Italy, Greece); where a Euro­pean army is being cre­at­ed with­out pop­u­lar con­sent; and (as Tweet­ed by the com­mis­sion only yes­ter­day**) where they seek to make tax rais­ing pow­ers a ‘Euro­pean com­pe­tence’ sub­ject to qual­i­fied major­i­ty vot­ing (how will Ire­land fare when they lose the pow­er to main­tain their com­petive cor­po­rate tax rates?).

    The EU’s exec­u­tive (the Com­mis­sion) is appoint­ed, not elect­ed — and its leg­is­la­ture (the EU par­lia­ment) has no pow­er to pro­pose leg­is­la­tion. So com­plex and con­vo­lut­ed are the bureacra­cy and intra-Gov­ern­men­tal sys­tems of over­sight, the com­mis­sion has almost unlim­it­ed scope to push for­ward towards its objec­tives, while cor­po­rate lob­by­ists can play the sys­tem effec­tive­ly squeeze small­er, more inno­v­a­tive com­pa­nies out of the mar­ket (cf Siemens ver­sus Dyson).

    So. Before you type­cast us leavers as racists (some­thing There­sa May, a remain­er, seems also to have done), obsessed by immi­gra­tion, ask your­self whether you’d allow your own coun­try to be sub­sumed into such an organ­i­sa­tion, in which your vote became increas­ing­ly worth­less.

    And if you would not, kind­ly lay off with the insults.

    *26. To play an effec­tive part in the Com­mu­ni­ty British mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion and their staffs and British offi­cials as nego­tia­tors will nec­es­sar­i­ly assume more polit­i­cal roles than is tra­di­tion­al in the UK. The Com­mu­ni­ty, if we are to ben­e­fit to the full, will devel­op wider pow­ers and co-ordi­nate and man­age pol­i­cy over wider areas of pub­lic busi­ness. To con­trol and super­vise this process it will be nec­es­sary to strength­en the demo­c­ra­t­ic organ­i­sa­tion of the Com­mu­ni­ty with the con­se­quent decline of the pri­ma­cy and pres­tige of the nation­al Par­lia­ments. The task will not be to arrest this process, since to do so would be to put con­sid­er­a­tions of for­mal sov­er­eign­ty before effec­tive influ­ence and pow­er, but to adapt insti­tu­tions and poli­cies both in the UK and in Brus­sels to meet and reduce the real and sub­stan­tial pub­lic anx­i­eties over nation­al iden­ti­ty and alien­ation from gov­ern­ment, fear of change and loss of con­trol over their fate which are aroused by talk of the “loss of sov­er­eign­ty”

    ** @EU_Commission
    Cur­rent­ly, tax mea­sures must be adopt­ed unan­i­mous­ly by EU coun­tries.
    We are launch­ing a debate on reform­ing the deci­sion-mak­ing process on tax­a­tion.
    Find out the 6 rea­sons why we sug­gest a tran­si­tion to #Qual­i­fied­Ma­jor­i­ty ↓

  • Tony says:

    Oh, and hon­est­ly, I’m not sure that post­ing high­ly sub­jec­tive polit­i­cal videos is what this site should be about.

    ps apolo­gies for all the typos in my pre­vi­ous com­ment.

  • steve lindsey says:

    Well said

  • Jonathan collins says:

    Amaz­ing to think that peo­ple would actu­al­ly want to be ruled by an unelect­ed beau­rac­ta­cy in anoth­er coun­try! But I guess nowa­days you’re “racist” if you don’t like migrants pour­ing into your coun­try unas­sim­i­lat­ed, with no inten­tions of ever becom­ing prop­er cit­i­zens of their “adopt­ed” coun­try. My bad!

  • Tony says:

    The text above intro­duc­ing the videos claims that “The Vote Leave cam­paign direc­tor now describes the ref­er­en­dum as a “dumb idea.” ” It links to a hit piece in a remain-sup­port­ing news­pa­per.

    Trou­ble is, it’s not true. Why don’t you try read­ing the orginal, writ­ten by the Cam­paign Direc­tor him­self. You can find his very thought­ful blog at

  • JV says:

    I love Stephen Fry, but this video is a dis­ap­point­ing­ly sim­plis­tic and pos­si­bly disin­gen­u­ous read­ing of the moti­va­tions of move­ments like Brex­it.

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